Traditional Bikes Get High-Tech Upgrades

Keeping pace with e-bikes

Key Takeaways

  • Pedal bikes are taking cues from e-bikes and adopting high-tech gadgets. 
  • Cannondale’s latest bike has a radar that shows when cars are approaching.
  • Some new bikes offer wireless electronic shifting that removes the need to push a lever.
A cyclist on a path near a waterway.

Compassionate Eye Foundation / David Oxberry / Getty Images

It's not just e-bikes that are going high-tech as traditional, pedal-powered cyclists get a new range of gadgets intended to make riding safer and easier. 

Cannondale recently released its latest Synapse endurance road bikes feature a rear-facing radar, front and rear lights that can blink with increasing intensity as a car approaches, and a handlebar-mounted monitor that shows approaching vehicles. 

"High-tech bikes can be more efficient, aerodynamic, comfortable, and even less expensive in terms of manufacturing, which means less expensive for the rider," Mike Yakubowicz, the general manager of bike maker Blacksmith Cycle, told Lifewire in an email interview. "In a more basic sense, everything around us is highly tech-focused: AR, digital integration, and even a more connected ecosystem, and many of these technologies may eventually benefit a rider's experience on the bike."

Keeping You Aware

Cannondale's new lineup relies on high-tech goodies that might seem more at home on a luxury car than a bike. The new Synapse Carbon features what Cannondale calls SmartSense technology, a system of lights and radar that actively communicates with the rider, bike, and surroundings and is powered by a single battery.

SmartSense works together as a single system, but it consists of four distinct elements: rear-facing radar, intelligent lights, a battery, and a wheel sensor that activates the whole system. It all can be configured by the Cannondale app.

The radar constantly scans for rear-approaching traffic and can signal the speed, distance, and number of cars through audible and visual alerts either on the app, and the Varia LED display unit that comes with the bike or a compatible head unit.

"SmartSense is designed to make road riding more enjoyable for experienced riders, more inviting for new riders, and more convenient for everyone," David Devine, the Cannondale Global senior director of product, said in a news release. "To complement SmartSense, we redesigned the highly celebrated Cannondale Synapse to be even more versatile than its predecessors. The result of pairing these two products is a seamless relationship between rider, bike, and road.

Gadgets Galore

The latest cutting-edge bicycles are powered by tech as much as muscle.

"There is so much technology in the cycling industry, even compared to Formula 1 and military-grade uses," Yakubowicz said. 

For example, some new bikes offer wireless electronic shifting like Shimano's Dual Integrated Intelligence Di2 and SRAM's eTap AXS. These systems do away with the older levers that allow you to manually change gears on a bike. Instead, the Di2 uses computing power and wireless tech to shift at the push of a button. 

"Even in the most extreme conditions, shifting is precise and controlled," Shimano writes on its website. "You can change gear even under heavy load while climbing or accelerating."

A team working on a smart pedal bike.

Shimano

Riders are also racing to install pedal-based power meters like Garmin's 3S model. The meters measure the amount of power the rider generates by putting a gadget on the pedal and communicating wirelessly with a bike computer that gives instant feedback.  

And bike frames have come a long way since the welded steel or aluminum models of yore. Higher-end bikes use 3D Fitting technology and aerodynamic analysis, noted Yakubowicz, to make frames that cut through the air with less wind resistance. Advances in carbon fiber engineering and manufacturing have also made carbon fiber bikes more affordable and stronger than ever. 

Experts say that future tech advances are likely to take cues from the automotive world. 

For example, color-changing paint like the kind recently unveiled by carmaker BMW could make customizing your ride a lot easier. 

"On the production side, additive manufacturing (3D-printing), continued emphasis on sustainability and carbon neutrality, and off-shoring in terms of domestic manufacturing will all see a changing landscape in terms of how and where bicycles are made in the near future," Yakubowicz said. 

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